Low Graduation Is Not About Basketball

It’s no surprise that college athletes tend not to have very high college graduation rates. During the NCAA Division I basketball tournament even Education Secretary Arne Duncan felt compelled to suggest that maybe colleges participating in contest should make sure that at least half of all players are graduating from college on time.

But it’s not just sports stars who don’t graduate. According to an article by longtime education authority Andrew Rotherham in Time:

When the University of Connecticut beat Butler on Monday night to win the NCAA championship, they brought down the curtain on an unusually exciting men’s college basketball tournament. But one aspect of the tournament was entirely predictable: The handwringing about the low-graduation rates for many basketball programs. While graduation rates for student athletes are improving, poor outcomes remain a serious problem. In this year’s tournament, only 42 of the 68 teams graduated at least 60 percent of their players, according to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. The winning Connecticut Huskies have a 31 percent graduation rate for basketball players.

The trouble with this line of thinking, however, is that it’s distracting. As Rotherham points out,

While the low-graduation rates for some basketball and football programs grab headlines, actually student athletes graduate at higher rates than students in general—at the University of Connecticut, athletes have an 83 percent graduation rate. More telling, colleges know how to support athletes in order to keep them academically eligible to play intercollegiate sports for the four years they can under NCAA rules.

And that’s because many schools make special efforts to ensure that their athletes successfully complete college. Meanwhile, only 57 percent of college students complete a degree within six years.

It’s not college sports that are the problem; it’s just college.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer